News from the Revolution in Rojava and Wider Kurdistan
The following article “IŞİD ekonomisi” was written by Metin Yeğin and appeared in Özgür Gündem. It has been translated into English below.
The extent of ISIS economic activities functioning around booty often goes unnoticed and it is evaluated as simply the distribution of spoils captured in war according to Islamic practices!
For example when ISIS sold the Yezidi people which they captured – the men as slaves and the women as concubines – because Yezidism was a ‘non-sanctioned’ religion and this came onto the world’s agenda, its human dimension shocked the world. When a simulated slave market was set up in the streets of London, complete with simulated veiled concubines, it was perhaps the first time since the bombing of the Nazi army in the Second World War that the British public was unified in its support for a bombing campaign.
However it is forgotten that behind this ‘human’ aspect lies an ‘ordinary’ economy that works to reproduced everyday life. That is to say that ISIS is not an organization only concerned, as the public might imagine, with the ‘other world’ or ‘paradise.’ In the first place the situation which emerged following the intervention in the Gulf and the occupation of Iraq created a sphere of “obligatory” economic activity for different groups. The large bureaucratic apparatus, the army and the security forces on which the Saddam government – like every authoritarian regime – depended on was left in a bind following the destruction of the regime. These groups were particularly excluded by the new, heavily Shia Iraqi regime and nothing remained in the hands of Sunni communities.
The lion’s share of the income from oil, the country’s most important resource, was taken by international oil companies, and what was left was divided up by those close to the occupiers, the Kurdish governments of Barzani and Talabani and Shia powers each in proportion to their influence. Nothing remained in the hands of the Sunnis. At the same time the agriculture which had sustained the lands of Iraq for thousands of years was destroyed in the course of the occupation. The agricultural economy which relied on the annual cycle collapsed. In particular the Sunni people of Iraq, who could no longer practice agriculture, lost their basic form of economic activity which had served as their livelihood for thousands of years, and even worse they could no longer produce enough food to fill their stomachs.
The only thing which remained to them, even if backwards, was the “war economy.” The income from this economy does not only derive from the sale of members of religious communities liked the Yezidis deemed to be forbidden by those above. It is an integral sphere of economic activity characterized by the ransom of kidnapped Christians, concubines, slaves, gold, money, the management of conquered property and the the rent derived therefrom, and the 20% tax paid on all of this income to the ‘Islamic State.’ This situation has once again proved the old adage, often used in these parts, that “the grass doesn’t grow where the soldier trods.” After the occupation nothing remained except the retrograde economy of pillage.
Moreover employment and unemployment – as is the case everywhere – are not only a questions of income but of social status. The Sunni community did not just lose their income but their social status. The former members of the bureaucracy, the soldiers, security services, and tribes have replaced their former positions and social status, now destroyed, with the terrible explosions of truck bombs, the esteem of territory captured for Islam, and of course the status of the martyr.
The concept of martyrdom – poorly understood in the West – is in fact nothing other than what comes from the dynamic derived from “the beautiful days to come” that occupies a place in every social structure’s utopic foundation. Once more martyrdom is not a status which only exists for the dead in the other world, but comes to define the social status of his or her family and tribe in this world. The real prize of the family or tribe of the martyr, outside of the small share which falls to it from the war economy, is its standing and even if perhaps impoverished it comes to posses a status and prestige which allows it to “walk around with its head high.”
It is not at all difficult for a social structure – particularly one subjected to massacre at the level of Fallujah or the experience of torture such as occurred at Abu Ghraib – to be terrorized by ISIS’s economy of plunder in the form of an Islamic ideology.
For that reason the economy of “communes, collectives and cooperatives” symbolized in Kobanê and Rojava is so important for the Middle East.
Either radical democracy or barbarism...